Ask anyone who their favorite mid-90’s Indian was and you’ll hear a lot of the same responses over and over and over. Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and on and on it would go. It’s no surprise. Those guys were kings among men in the city of Cleveland. They ruled the day.
However, one former Indian from that era gets overlooked time and time again both by fans and writers alike. It makes sense though. He didn’t put up hall of fame numbers and he never made an all-star team, but he was a model of consistency and provided the Tribe with some serious pop from the left hand side of the plate. To be honest, it’s kind of a shame. Who is this player in question? Paul Sorrento.
This Indians acquired Sorrento via an offseason trade with the Minnesota Twins on March 28, 1992. In exchange for Sorrento’s services, the Indians gave up pitchers Oscar Munoz and Curtis Leskanic. To say that this trade ended up being a bit lopsided isn’t doing it justice. This trade was highway robbery by the Indians.
Munoz appeared in 10 games during his major league career, all of which came for the Twins during the strike shortened 1995 season. Leskanic had a somewhat successful career spanning from 1993 through 2004, but he never pitched a single big league inning for the Twins. So much for a return on investment. It’s this type of offseason move that helps you begin to understand why the Twins went from World Series contenders in the late 80’s and early 90’s to perennial cellar dwellers.
Meanwhile, Sorrento became a staple in the middle of the Tribe’s lineup for four seasons from 1992 to 1995. He was a model of consistency during those four seasons. In 487 games played, Sorrento jacked 76 home runs and added 75 doubles while driving in 266 runs and posting a triple slash of .261/.340/.457. His OPS+ during that time frame was a modest 113.
This didn’t truly indicate the impact Sorrento had during his time with the Tribe or just exactly what he could have become. They say timing is everything. Unfortunately for Sorrento, the prime of his career couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Because of that crappy timing his career as an Indian is largely overlooked.
Sorrento never played more than 148 games in any of his four seasons with the Tribe, but not because of injury or his own failings as a player. If not for the player strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season or the shortened 1995 season because of the same work stoppage, Sorrento’s numbers could be much more impressive. Just look at his career totals as an Indians versus his numbers per 162 games.
Sorrento’s per 162 game totals are more than just solid. Right now, wouldn’t anyone take 25 homers and 89 RBI from first base for the 2013 Indians? What’s most impressive about Sorrento’s numbers is that in only 95 games in 1994 he smashed 14 home runs and drove in 62. What could he have done if the ’94 season hadn’t ended prematurely? In 1995 Sorrento drilled 25 homers with 79 RBI in only 105 games. Again, what could Sorrento have done for the Tribe had he been given the luxury of full seasons in both ’94 and ’95?
It also didn’t help that Mike Hargrove regularly sat Sorrento versus left handed pitching in favor of the right handed hitting Herbert Perry in 1995. Perry was highly regarded as a prospect for the Indians, but his on the field contributions never seemed to match the hype. Would Sorrento have been a better option than Perry most nights? It’s hard to say for sure. However with hindsight being 20/20 and knowing what we know now it’s hard to fathom why the Indians felt the way they felt back in ’95.
Taking all of that into account it’s easy to see that Paul Sorrento made a bigger impact with the Indians than what many people give him credit for. But again, timing is everything. Even if the strike had never happened and Sorrento had played in an additional 125 games for the Indians in those two seasons, give or take, it probably still wouldn’t have mattered. After all, the Indians had a stud hitter in Jim Thome making a move to first base following the ’95 season, thus making Sorrento expendable regardless.
As we all know, Paul Sorrento was allowed to leave via free agency in 1996 and he immediately signed with the Seattle Mariners. Over the next two seasons with the Mariners, Sorrento continued his heavy hitting ways by jacking 54 home runs and driving in 173 runs with an OPS+ of 122 while complimenting a lineup that included the likes of Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner.
Following the 1997 season, Sorrento once again hit the free agent market, this time signing with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In his final two seasons of pro ball with the Devil Rays Sorrento only hit 28 homers and was a far cry from the hitter he once was with the Indians and Mariners. It also didn’t help that the Devils Rays were a newly formed expansion franchise struggling to put a competitive team on the field in those two years. Sorrento quietly retired from baseball following the 1999 season.
After a 12-year absence from professional baseball, Paul Sorrento stepped back into the game, this time in the role of a coach. He was named hitting coach of the Class A Inland Empire 66ers of the California League for the 2012 season. Following a successful season in that role, Sorrento was named the minor league hitting coordinator of the Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim in November of 2012. This role will once again team him up with former Indian Omar Vizquel, who was recently hired as an infield instructor with the Angels.
So while Paul Sorrento didn’t put up massive numbers or do anything terribly spectacular during his playing career, he should still hold a special place in the hearts of Indians fans. He was a key piece to a team that captured our hearts in 1994 and 1995 and he helped form the core of a lineup that was absolutely terrifying when it was running on all cylinders. Sorrento will also live on forever thanks to the grand slam he hit on May 9, 1994, the first grand slam ever hit in the history of Progressive Field.
And as an extra piece of baseball history, Paul Sorrento had the first hit in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 6, 1992.